Marvel at this amazing miniature model of an 1959 IBM mainframe computer
Computers have become much smaller since 1959, when IBM developed the 1401 data processing system, which is touted as the world’s first affordable general-purpose computer. However, Nicolas Temese, a developer of indie games in Montreal and technical developer of animation studios, decided to redesign the 1401 in miniature mode. How really, really miniature.
“I’ve always been interested in computer history in general,” said Temese. “People often forget how primitive they used to be and how powerful they were back then. I think the 1401 is such an iconic computer, I’ve always had a fascination with it, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to replicate.”
Temese, who shared the photos of the incredibly detailed model on his Instagram account, chose not to use 3D printing for the project. Instead, he spent 300 hours designing and building it himself, starting with flat polystyrene panels.
“I usually design on paper or on a computer first because many dimensions are difficult to find,” he said. “Then I measure and cut the parts and glue them together. It’s about a lot of sanding and finishing, then airbrushing and different types of paint to try to reproduce the original finish of the surfaces.”
Temese said he had been making miniatures for years, but nothing so serious or precise. “I have no training in it,” he said. “I learned everything myself, but I was always a doer at heart.”
And he didn’t go into the details. Temese’s model includes a punch card reader, tiny punch cards, two tape drives, a query console, a central processing unit, a line printer, a floating floor and even a tiny, light yellow office chair with wheels.
His favorite part of the model is his gates – the drawers that fold out of the main processing unit.
“The original gates had a backplane that was hand-wrapped with wire, and I put it aside for about two months because I had no idea how to do it convincingly,” he admits. “It was a lot of work to make all these pens by hand, all the wrong wires and the orange (SMS) cards, but I think the final look was very convincing.”
He has put further photos of the creation process online, whereby the structure of the SMS card unit is shown here and the construction of the office chair here.
“I think people like the little chair a lot because I think it is a more reliable element for more people,” he said. “It was a fun thing to do.”
Since he published his progress, he has heard of numerous computer industry veterans exchanging memories of reality.
“When I started putting pictures of my model online, I wasn’t sure if many people would even know what it was,” Temese admits. “I was very surprised to see that at that time there were so many people who worked with (or) on these systems who remember and have such good memories of it. I have heard from people at IBM and from people who have worked on the original system and it really confirms if you comment on it and appreciate the accuracy. “
Temese says he’s still working on a few final details.
“It will have a nice frame and a back wall with the IBM logo of that time,” he said. “The whole thing is actually animated because most of the lights and tape drives are actually moving. I built a microcontroller card for it, which I programmed to light the whole thing up.”
And when it was finished, the miniature had already found a home – the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. “They have a working copy of the original 1401 over there,” said Temese, “and I think my miniature will feel at home.”